About the Author: David McKeeby is a Public Affairs Specialist in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly, President Obama pledged to strengthen U.S. support for international peacekeeping efforts, a commitment he further underlined later in the day by meeting on the sidelines with countries that contribute the largest number of police, civilians, and troops to UN peacekeeping operations worldwide.
“UN peacekeeping can deliver important results by protecting civilians, helping to rebuild security, and advancing peace around the world,” Obama said during the event, where he was joined by Secretary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice in recognizing the peacekeepers’ contributions with leaders from Bangladesh, Rwanda, Italy, Pakistan, Ghana, Senegal, Nepal, Uruguay and delegations from China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, and Nigeria.
The United States has long been the world’s top financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, providing about 25 percent of the international organization’s budget to support its 113,000 “blue helmets,” police, and civilians working to secure the peace and protect at-risk populations in 19 post-conflict stabilization missions around the world. In recent years, the United States has also joined in international efforts to meet a growing demand for more trained personnel and equipment to strengthen international efforts to stabilize some of world’s most challenging hotspots, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Lebanon, to Somalia and Sudan.
A key component of this effort has been the State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), overseen by the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. GPOI was launched in support of the G-8 Action Plan to Expand Global Capability for Peace Support Operations, adopted at the 2004 G-8 Sea Island Summit. GPOI also provides support to the Italian-led Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units which provides “train-the-trainer” instruction, creating police unit trainers who can play a key role in post-conflict countries by helping reform local police forces to take on the long-term responsibility for safeguarding area residents and upholding the law. In all, the Center has graduated over 2,000 trainers from 29 countries.
For years, many critics dismissed GPOI’s goal to train and equip 75,000 peacekeepers worldwide by 2010 as unrealistic. But this summer, the Department announced that it surpassed their GPOI goal a year early, training more than 83,000 foreign peacekeepers as of August 31, and facilitating the deployment of nearly 50,000 peacekeeping forces to 20 United Nations, African Union, and other regional peace support operations around the globe.
While GPOI is worldwide in scope, African nations have been central to the partnership’s success. Nearly half of the 56 GPOI partner countries are located in Africa. The bulk of the training supported through GPOI has been conducted in Africa by the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) Program, a component of GPOI administered by our colleagues in State’s Bureau of African Affairs. Peacekeeping is truly a “whole-of-government” challenge, and Political-Military Affairs works closely with partners across the U.S. government to implement GPOI, including the Department of Defense and its regional commands, making the initiative yet another example of Secretary Clinton’s vision of “smart power” in action.
Starting in October 2009, the peacekeeping initiative will launch Phase II (FY 2010-2014), where it plans to build on its successful partnerships in Africa and elsewhere by shifting its focus from direct training by U.S. trainers to activities that increase the self-sufficiency of GPOI partners to train peacekeepers on their own. By doing so, GPOI will further multiply the number of future peacekeeping forces and empower partner countries to strengthen their own roles in the shared global challenge of increasing the peace.
“Over the last ten years, the demands on peacekeeping have grown, and operations have become more complex. It is in all of our interests to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these efforts,” Obama said. “The United States is ready to do its part.”